During the past few weeks I have written a number of things on transgender subjects. But this is one that I can hardly write, because the pain is so great. It is the same pain that I felt a year ago, sitting in a church in New Jersey one night and listening to an almost endless list of the names of transgender people who had been murdered during the previous 12 months. One name after another, a relentless dirge that made you want to run out of the building but was so riveting that you had to stay there in your pew enduring the onslaught.
I have seldom experienced anything so moving, and yet it happens every year, all over the world, in observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance.
The bone-chilling reality behind this ritual is that transgender people are being slaughtered worldwide, just because they have the courage to be themselves even though it means violating traditional boundaries of gender. The victims are of every gender and they die in almost any way you can imagine. The deaths memorialized this year include shootings, multiple stabbings, beating to death, strangling, and stoning. At least one victim was set on fire. In the United States, their ages ran from just 16 to over 50.
No one is safe, but in this country by far the most vulnerable are trans women of color.
Yes, it is a time to mourn our dead. But it is also time to honor their courage. These are people who dared to be themselves in the face of prejudice, discrimination, hatred, and danger. They have been in the forefront of a major justice movement and a major challenge to social boundaries. They deserve both our respect and our sincere gratitude. They have paid the ultimate price for the fundamental right to express their own identities.
We also need to remember how much has been accomplished already in the struggle for freedom of gender expression. When I was young, almost nothing was known about the psychology of gender. Mental health professionals often did not recognize gender dysphoria in their patients. When they did acknowledge that someone was transsexual, they considered it a mental illness. Now many therapists specialize in helping people accept their true gender identities and great advances have been made in medical treatment for those who chose to have their bodies modified to match their genders.
Just as importantly, the general public has become far more aware of transgender people and significant steps have been made toward securing their rights in schools, workplaces, prisons, and elsewhere.
Of course, we in the transgender community know how much remains to be done. And there is no more fitting way to honor our dead than to renew our determination to create a society where people like them will be safe. We must make people aware of what is being done to trans people and demand that it stop. This is something to make noise about and not just once a year.
It is an absolute travesty for any segment of our society to be targeted for violence, and we must not allow this to happen simply because it is happening to a marginalized group.
It is not just about making our society safe for trans people. It is about making it safe for diversity. Injustice toward one group is intertwined with injustice toward any other. This is dramatically clear from a single statistic: the average life expectancy for a black transgender woman in America is just 35. Black. Trans. Woman. She is standing in the path of the perfect storm, at the exact intersection of oppressions. If we are to truly honor her on November 20, we must honor all trans people, all women, all people who are black, and all other victims of injustice. That is the only way to achieve real justice for any of us.
Lee Schubert is the author of Woman Incognito: Transsexual without Transition.